Here is a follow up to my original post the other day, if you missed it, see it here: http://amarketingexpert.com/amazon-making-big-changes-authors-beware/
I’m including full details of what transpired along with contact information should you need to reach out directly to Amazon to see if your book could be in trouble. Also, I’ll offer you some step-by-step instructions for dealing with this issue, if it happens to you.
When Amazon pulled a book we were working on, I decided that I needed to dig deeper to find out the heart of the issue around this. I get the keyword banter, but much of it is misunderstood. Let me explain.
When I wrote to Amazon initially (after I noticed that the book was pulled) they said they prohibited “any and all keywords with other authors or similar book titles in the description or keyword area.”
Now let me clarify something. People will often use the terms tags and keywords interchangeably. What I’m speaking of are the keywords associated with your book page, the back end page where you upload your book, add your book cover, etc. For most of us this will be KDP. See screen grab here:
I took it upon myself to raise hell because, you know, pulling a book is pretty heavy-handed. I called Author Central; actually, I had them call me. You can access this through your Author Central Page if you click the “Help” button. They called me and referred me to the Kindle people and she said, “You cannot reach them by phone.” Sigh. Of course. So I wrote them and got a stringent email back, along the lines of “you screwed up, we’ll do what we can.” But the bigger issue here, at least as it relates to this title, is the author was never notified the first time. No notice. Just poof, the book is gone. Heartbreak. Especially since we’re knee-deep in promoting this book.
I hear often that you just can’t reach Amazon – ever. I decided to prove otherwise and was determined to get to the bottom of this.
I had read somewhere that Jeff Bezos reads all of his email. I don’t know if that’s true or an Amazon urban legend but I figured it was worth a try. So I took the email they gave me for KDP (their standard email) and wrote the following note to both Jeff Bezos and KDP. Candidly, I assumed it would lead nowhere:
Dear Mr. Bezos & KDP Support,
I wanted to bring an issue to your attention that is very concerning to those of us in publishing. One of the titles we are working with was pulled from Amazon (the eBook). I spoke with someone in Author Central yesterday after a title was pulled from KDP: ASIN: B00FA5EB4Q
I have a special email set up for this author which we check and she was *not* notified by your team, despite the fact that someone in your office stated that an email went out on 10-22. This email was never received by the author. I would think that given the seriousness of pulling a title, more than one notification would be warranted. This author is spending a lot of money on promoting this title and during the KDP giveaway she gave out in excess of 37,000 books. This number is very high for a new author. There is a certain momentum that follows a giveaway like that; with this title gone that momentum has evaporated.
When I spoke with Author Central, the gal there said that you can no longer use author names or book titles in your keywords OR description. Then I spoke with someone at CreateSpace and she said she’d not heard about this. I have blogged on this and I’d like to do a follow up. Any information you can share would be helpful to other authors. I would be like to update this post based on your feedback. See post here, http://amarketingexpert.com/amazon-making-big-changes-authors-beware/
It would be helpful to have some input into this issue so we can help alert authors and your office can avoid getting a huge number of emails from these folks. I realize that Amazon is focused on the customer, but your author is also a customer.
In the morning, I got a note from an executive within KDP. I’ve removed his name for privacy reasons. Here’s his note:
My name is (BLANK) of Amazon’s KDP, Executive Customer Relations. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked that I respond on his behalf. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have started investigating your concerns with the relevant department. To protect our authors’ and publishers’ privacy, we can only send correspondence to the e-mail address associated with the account the title was published on. Once I have more information, I will work directly with the author to resolve her concerns.
Thank you for your understanding.
Apparently whatever I did elevated this issue, at least somewhat. Within an hour, the book was live again, they keywords removed of course. But, the other big issue was that when the book went live, the original link to it was a 404 page that had nothing on it, just an “oops” message from Amazon. Problem! We were promoting this book using the link to the eBook and the book was no longer there. So, I wrote him and asked if that could be fixed. It could, and within fifteen minutes the book was fixed and live – once again.
He also sent me this, which is their standard wording for their keywords and metadata guidelines:
As stated in our Metadata Guidelines (https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6), search keywords that are not accurate descriptors of a book’s central storyline or are completely unrelated to its content may be misleading to our customers and are unacceptable. Misleading search keywords, such as reference to other authors or titles, result in confusion for customers as to why the work is included in search results. To that end, authors may be asked to remove misleading terms from their book’s search keyword fields so that we can ensure the keywords do not lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers’ ability to make good buying decisions. If no changes are made to the book’s search keyword fields, the book may be removed from sale. In all cases of book removal, the author is notified. Our team is looking into any technical issues that occurred during our notification to you. If we determine an error in our messaging system, all authors impacted will be notified immediately.
If you aren’t sure, check those keywords and check your book description and do so right now. From what I understood from the Author Central person I initially talked with, they are really cracking down on this now. I will, however, add this. When I asked him the specific keywords that were offensive, he only cited one book title. This author had a mix of book titles and keywords associated with her category, yet Amazon only cracked down on one of the words which seems odd to me. As I said, it’s not an exact science. You should follow up individually and find out. Do your due diligence on this. There are a lot of people out there talking about a lot of things “they know” – candidly I don’t know if anyone knows for certain what the exact keyword issues are.
I’ve had some responses from people saying that, “Well such and such book is referenced in my book, can I mention it?” The answer is I don’t know. But here is a way to contact Amazon:
I’m giving you the KDP email since much of this falls in that territory. If you have no control over this, check with your publisher. I know many publishers have done this with keywords so ask them.
You can also reach someone in Author Central and often speak to them live. Just click “Help” through your Author Central account, they can call you back at a time you determine. Keep in mind that they will tell you that KDP is in charge of this and they can’t help you. But they may be able to steer you in a better direction, or offer some additional clarity.
If, God forbid, you find your book gone, here is what you can do to contact Amazon:
1) Panic: People will tell you to calm down. Let’s face it, your book is gone. The time for calm has long since passed. Freak out, scream, do whatever – and when you’re done with that, spring into action.
2) Contact KDP support or whomever has done the listing for your book. If you reach out to KDP make sure that you reference the ISBN and ASIN number of the book.
3) Be polite. Don’t be a train wreck in email. Ask for help.
4) If you got a notification and didn’t heed it, you may lose your book and there is nothing KDP can do to reinstate it. You can ask, but the answer will likely be no.
5) Wait and see what happens. Most of the responses are pretty immediate.
6) Since the majority of this affects KDP titles, it’s not a good idea to just use your eBook link when you’re promoting your book. Use the link to the book page that will give readers the option to get a paperback or Kindle version. In this case the eBook disappeared as did the link to it (404 oops! page).
When I posted the initial string in this discussion, several authors came back and said, “I would never do that!” Well, that’s great but associating your book with similar titles has been a marketing tool for many, many years. This post isn’t to debate the merits of keywords associated to bigger titles. It’s about proactively monitoring your book, dealing with a big company and being successful in spite of the odds.
So, the moral of the story is a) don’t piss off Amazon and b) you can resolve issues with them. I understand that they are the 8,000 pound gorilla but they will serve you if you ask and if you’re persistent enough.
To those who say “I can’t fix any issues with Amazon” I say, “Then you’re not trying hard enough.”
Bitching about Amazon isn’t productive, it’s the world we live in. We have to find a way to work within it, instead of against it. That’s how you’ll be successful.
Oh and the title in question? http://www.amazon.com/Shelf-Life-The-Publicist-Book-ebook/dp/B00FA5EB4Q/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1384457520&sr=8-2&keywords=shelf+life
Thanks for the heads up, Penny! I would never put another book title or author name in my keywords, but I did have an, “If you liked xxx, you’ll like this,” sentence at the end of my book description. I wouldn’t have expected Amazon to draw from the book description for search results, given the junk people put in there, but I removed the offending text just in case.
Wow, wouldn’t have thought about this. Thanks for the heads up.
I can’t understand why the book was pulled. What were these offending keywords?
I put ‘Game of Thrones’ as a keyword for one of my fantasy novels about 2 months ago. It was kicked back to draft status and I got the email about the keywords, changed it, and the book was live again within 12 hours.
And I’m sure most erotic authors could tell you of the problems they’ve been having. One book? Imagine having 50 to 100 pulled, and these books that aren’t being given away but are making hefty profits.
I agree Amazon shouldn’t pull a book, but it’s also the author’s responsibility to read that TOS and not just check the box for it.
Thanks for this, Penny. Two questions I don’t see answered here and I’m wondering if you received a reply from Amazon:
1. Did Amazon confirm that they DID NOT notify the author at the address in the KDP file before removing the book?
2. Did Amazon confirm that the “no” Keywords are also prohibited in book descriptions?
Diane, hi —- Amazon is “looking into it” but since we manage that email I know with 100% certainty they did not email her, though it was likely a glitch in their system. Still, a glitch that needs fixing. And you can use keywords, but not any that have an author name in them or book title, like 50 Shades of Grey or some such
how did you get bezos email ???????
Glad that this was resolved!
I have noticed a lot of authors using book titles and other authors in their book description. The link you sent seemed to only indicate that it is against the rules for the search keywords.
So, will an author who writes… “Fans of J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Joe Schmoe will love this book!” (actual example, with author names substituted) in their description, have the book pulled?
R.J. My understanding is that’s not a problem, but email KDP or call Author Central to be 100% sure!
I don’t understand why you have the gorilla image and create the false impression that Amazon is overbearing or unresponsive. As you abundantly prove, you did receive return phone calls, messages and instructions. This is exactly my experience with a multitude of problems. They are extremely responsive and we hear from someone — and receive a solution to a problem very quickly. I have no horn to toot for Amazon but why not be fair. I sure don’t get this kind of responsiveness from B&N or Apple. And it seems reasonable to not allow authors to use key words like Nora Roberts or John Grisham. C’mon. They can mention other authors in both editorial and reader reviews.
I’m a little confused . . . does this mean you can’t use YOUR OWN name as author in your keyword phrases? I have mine in them but no one else’s. I’ve just now updated my keywords for one of my titles and took out my name. I was going to redo them for the other titles when I uploaded the new covers and revisions. But if I can’t have my own name in there I will go ahead and do it now.
Anita hi – yes you can use your own name, just no other author. Good luck!
Thanks, Penny, for this great explanation about Amazon’s policy related to using other authors’ names and titles in your keywords. I hadn’t planned to do that myself,but I’ve found that if I don’t feel I fit in a category when I initially read the Terms and Conditions, I won’t remember those conditions. This is one area I can imagine some day deciding tho do after all and not remembering it is prohibited. Your article made a strong enough impression that I expect to remember.
John, I’m so glad it’s helpful to you. This article has more current information, and we regularly share the latest and greatest Amazon information on our blog here! I look forward to hearing how this works for you – please come back and let us know!